Thursday, August 29, 2013

351 (2013 #35). The Guy Not Taken

by Jennifer Weiner, 
read by Mary Catherine Garrison, Jordan Bridges, Jonathan Hogan, Andrea Gallo, and Ruth Ann Phimister

This is a collection of short stories by popular chick-lit author Jennifer Weiner. I've never read any of her books before, so I listened to this audiobook with an open mind.

I enjoyed the 11 stories in this book.  The first three are linked, featuring Josie Krystal, her mom, and younger siblings, the spoiled Nicki and the sullen Jon, at three different times in her life (age 18, 20, and 26).

My favorite story was the next one in the book, "Swim," about a single young female writer with a face badly scarred in the accident that killed her parents, who earns a living helping rich kids prepare their college applications, essays, and interviews.  Soon she’s hired to polish an online dating profile.  Ruth swims countless laps in her free time, something I did when I was single and lonely like she is.  I found the ending to this one a little predictable, yet still satisfying.

The narrators in the stories get older as you proceed through the book, moving from young singles, to middle age and married, to mature narrators, one about to be divorced, one widowed.  Two of the narrators (in "Good Men" and "Oranges from Florida") are men.  All of the narrators are flawed people in some way - no perfect-sized, stunning women (or men) here!  I was bothered by how some of Weiner’s female characters are rather weak-willed and let others walk all over them (like Josie, Jess from “Buyer’s Market,” and Dora, the widow from the last story, "Dora on the Beach").  I wanted to shake them at times and yell "grow a spine already!"

The story I liked least was "Tour of Duty," about a mother visiting colleges with her high- school senior son, the youngest of her four children, right before telling him that his father has left the family.  I liked the characters, but I felt the ending was rather abrupt, confusing, and unsatisfying - but it was also the first story Weiner ever sold for publication.  I also felt rather neutral about the two stories narrated by men.

Most of the stories are funny (especially the title story, "The Guy Not Taken," with its fantasy twist), and many are quite poignant (especially "Buyer's Market" and "The Mother's Hour").  Weiner has some recurring themes - the absentee dad (Weiner's father left their family when she was 17) is one, and characters who are writers (or swimmers, or both) is another.

The audiobook I listened to (pictured at left) had five narrators:  Mary Catherine Garrison, Jordan Bridges (of the famous Bridges acting family - his father is Beau), Jonathan Hogan, Andrea Gallo, and Ruth Ann Phimister.  These last three read the last three stories in the book - all older narrators, age 40+.  Bridges does the other male-narrated story, and Garrison does the remaining seven.  She was excellent, especially with the flippant Nicki.

I did not originally intend to listen to this audiobook.  I'd picked up a paperback of this title (pictured above) years ago at a Friends of the Library book sale.  However, I was trying to read and review five books this August, and due to time crunches, one of them needed to be an audiobook!  I'm glad I had both, as the audiobook lacks the author's notes on the stories (at the end of the paperback), where she explains when each story was written and some of its background.  THAT was fascinating!

Bottom line - I'm glad I listened to this book, and I'd recommend reading or listening to it as an easy, fun summer read.  I'd be willing to try more of Jennifer Weiner's books.

© Amanda Pape - 2013

[The audiobook was borrowed from and returned to my local public library.  I will be donating the paperback I got at a Friends of the Library book sale to them as well, as I think they need a print copy.]

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